A bill that would keep the nation's air traffic control system operating until the end of the year while lawmakers finish a four-year Federal Aviation Administration authorization won House passage Monday.
The FAA's authority to collect the excise and ticket taxes that support much of its budget is set to expire when the current authorization (PL 108-176) ends Sept. 30. The House passed a three-month extension of that authority (HR 3540) by voice vote.
The Senate could either take up the House-passed bill and clear it by week's end or include it in a stopgap spending bill that Congress must clear by the end of the week to avoid a government shutdown. (Story, p. 8)
John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Aviation Subcommittee, said he prefers the latter approach.
The short-term extension also would renew the FAA's authority to distribute some $919 million in airport improvement grants and reauthorize war risk insurance for airlines, which indemnifies them against third-party liability in the case of a terrorist attack.
Last week, the House passed its long-term FAA bill (HR 2881), and the Senate Finance Committee completed the revenue section of its bill (S 1300), which the Commerce panel had approved earlier. The revenue provisions will be added to the broader Senate bill on the floor.
But no date for Senate floor action has been set, and reconciling differences between the two chambers' bills will not be easy, particularly those regarding proposed new fees for various sectors of the aviation industry intended to help pay for improvements to the air traffic control system.
The Senate bill tends to favor the airline industry by requiring general aviation, particularly high-end business jets, to pay more than current law requires for use of the air traffic control system. General aviation groups prefer the House bill, which would raise some taxes on general aviation but would not alter the basic fee structure.
The administration has threatened to veto the House bill, saying it would not adequately tie FAA revenue to the costs that users impose on the air traffic control system. The administration wants to replace the current system of fuel and ticket taxes with new usage fees, such as per-flight charges based on distance traveled.